On The Radio – Cedar Rapids power plant retires coal burning unit


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A view of industrial Cedar Rapids in 2013. (Arlen Breiholz/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 13, 2017

This On The Radio segment discusses how Alliant Energy recently added Cedar Rapids to its list of Iowa cities moving away from coal and toward natural gas.

Transcript: Alliant Energy began burning natural gas instead of coal in one of its largest energy units in Cedar Rapids last month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Crews converted one of four coal-burning units at Prairie Creek Generation Station so that it could operate using natural gas last month. Upgrades to the more than 100 megawatt unit are expected to reduce the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent and sulfur dioxide, mercury, and particulate matter pollution by 50 percent.

Alliant Energy has also recently transitioned from coal to natural gas at plants in Marshalltown, Dubuque, Council Bluffs, Bettendorf and Clinton. Prairie Creek Generation Station is expected to be coal free by 2025.

While coal still provides 47 percent of Iowa’s energy, that number has decreased significantly in recent years. Wind energy provides the second largest percentage of Iowa’s electricity, making up 36.6 percent of the total energy picture.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Iowa City Climate Action and Adaptation Plan in the works


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A complete timeline of Iowa City’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan development. (City of Iowa City)
Jenna Ladd | November 7, 2017

There was standing room only at the Iowa City Climate Action Community Meeting on Thursday night.

The community meeting was organized by the city of Iowa City’s Climate Action Steering Committee, which was formed in June 2017 following President Trumps’ announcement that the U.S. would withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Since then, city council and the steering committee have committed Iowa City to the same goals outlined by the Paris Climate Accord: community-wide greenhouse gas reduction goals of 26-28% by the year 2025 and 80% by 2050, where 2005 emissions levels serve as a baseline.

Representatives from the environmental consulting firm Elevate Energy presented attendees with possible climate adaptation and mitigation strategies in five categories: energy, waste, transportation, adaptation, and other, at five stations around the Iowa City Public Library’s meeting room A. Residents were invited to visit each station and vote for those strategies they thought would be useful to Iowa City and those strategies they felt they could help to implement.

Brenda Nations, Sustainability Coordinator for the city, opened the community meeting. She said, “We want to ensure the benefits for all members of our community, and we want to be sure to have equitable solutions to these problems.”

To that end, the steering committee plans to send a city-wide survey by mail in December to residents that are unable to attend any of the initiative’s community meetings.

In partnership with Elevate Energy, the steering committee will put together a concise report of community input and cost-benefit analysis that will inform the first draft of Iowa City’s climate action plan, due out in February. After a final community input meeting planned for April 26, the steering community will present their completed Climate Action and Adaptation Plan to city council in May 2018.

On The Radio – California fires bring toxic ash


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Ash coats destroyed vehicles near Santa Rosa, California near the end of October. (California National Guard/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 6, 2017

This On The Radio segment discusses how ash left from California’s recent wildfires may threaten area residents. 

Transcript: The wildfires raging throughout Northern California have finally calmed down, but the fight isn’t over.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Northern Californians have suffered greatly in the wake of the October’s wildfires that left 42 dead and around 100,000 people displaced. Over 8,000 homes and buildings were destroyed.

Residents of a neighborhood in Santa Rosa are already seeing the effects of the ash, as it has started to cover every available surface. A state of emergency for multiple counties throughout California was issued last month by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Toxic ash could contain any number of hazardous materials, including trace amounts of arsenic and lead, according to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. Many places effected by the ash have already issued health warnings to residents.

Efforts by the state of California have been made to clean up the toxic material and debris before the rainy season commences and washes toxins into local waterways.

For more information, visit Iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

Form the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Climate change made California wildfires more severe


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Smoke looms over homes in California during the Solano fire of 2013. (Robert Couse-Baker/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| October 13, 2017

A report published on Thursday in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Technology Review stated that human-induced climate change is likely to blame for the nearly two dozen wildfires ripping across northern California.

The wildfires have burned nearly 190,000 acres so far and killed 31 residents. While the source of the initial flames remains unknown, MIT points out that parts of California recently experienced a five-year drought which was “very likely” caused by climate change. The long drought left more than 100 million dead trees in its wake, which added to the amount of fuel available to this week’s wildfires. Couple that with record-setting heat in California this summer, another consequence of a changing climate, and conditions were perfect for fire.

Climate change is impacting the frequency and intensity of wildfires across the country. Since the 1980’s they’ve become more likely and more severe. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, wildfires now last five times as long, occur nearly four times as often and burn an average of six times more land area than they used to.

Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University, recently published a study looking at the impact of human-induced climate change on the size of the area wildfires have burned the western U.S. Referring to climate change, he said, “No matter how hard we try, the fires are going to keep getting bigger, and the reason is really clear.”

Potential for nanomaterials to solve environmental problems


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Nanotechnologies are being developed to harvest carbon dioxide and remove heavy metals, pictured above, from water sources. (ETH Zurich)
Jenna Ladd| September 15, 2017

In exciting new research, scientists from around the world are working to develop nanomaterials that can efficiently harvest carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into another useful product.

Nanomaterials are defined as those materials that are smaller than one millionth of a millimeter, or about 100,000 times smaller in width than a human hair.  Arun Chattopadhyay is a chemist at theIndian Institute of Technology Guwahati’s Center for Nanotechnology. “Nanomaterials can convert carbon dioxide into useful products like alcohol. The materials could be simple chemical catalysts or photochemical in nature that work in the presence of sunlight,” he said to Climate Central.

The trouble is, nanomaterials are not yet inexpensive enough for wide-scale application. To this point, Chattopadhyay added, “Nanomaterials could help us mitigate pollution. They are efficient catalysts and mostly recyclable. Now, they have to become economical for commercialization and better to replace present-day technologies completely.”

Researchers in France have developed a nanomaterial that uses sunlight and water to transform atmospheric CO2 into methanol. Although this type of nanomaterial may present a cheaper option, scientists are still struggling to create the particles at a consistent size.

Other types of nanomaterials are being developed to remove heavy metals and dyes from wastewater, clean up oil spills and breaking down organic waste more quickly.

Iowa DNR fails to obey some state regulations


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A recent audit found Iowa DNR has failed to follow a state law related to the establishment of wetlands near close agricultural drainage wells. (Iowa DNR)
Jenna Ladd | September 8, 2017

A state audit released on Tuesday revealed that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has failed to follow state law related to identifying and safeguarding wetlands, monitoring public works projects on the local level and establishing a clean air advisory panel.

In its defense, Iowa DNR claims that state law pertaining to these issues are often duplicative or less stringent than federal requirements, according to a report from the Des Moines Register. Federal requirements for wetland protection specifically exceed regulation put forth by the state, Iowa DNR director Chuck Gipp told the Register. He said, “We recognize and understand the value of wetlands.” The Iowa law “is asking us to do something that would be even less stringent than the federal code.”

In response, Iowa Environmental Council’s water program coordinator Susan Heathcote noted that federal oversight related to water quality is questionable at present, considering that President Trump is expected to repeal and revise an Obama era water quality regulation soon.

More specifically, the audit found that the Iowa DNR has not established a program aimed at assisting in the development of wetlands around closed agricultural drainage areas, which would aid in the filtration of nutrient rich water flowing into municipal taps. The news that the state is failing to abide by existing water quality-related regulations comes after another legislative session during which state legislators failed to provide funding for more robust water quality measures Iowa voters approved more than seven years ago.

Wildfires bring smoke to Iowa


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Smoke from a wildfire this May billows over a local road. (flickr/Michael Lusk)
Jenna Ladd| September 5, 2017

A yellowish haze blanketed most of eastern Iowa this Labor Day weekend thanks to wildfires in the western U.S. and Canada.

Wildfires throughout Montana, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are credited with much of this weekend’s smoke. Just this Sunday, evacuations were ordered for Glacier National Park in Montana and 140 campers were rescued from a smoldering forest on Sunday in Oregon.

As the climate changes, wet areas become wetter and dry areas become drier, allowing for longer wildfire seasons in many parts of the western U.S. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, compared to the 1980’s, wildfires now last nearly five times as long, occur almost four times as often and burn more than six times the land area on average.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Cousins said that this weekend’s haze cut visibility at Davenport Municipal Airport by two and a half miles.

A report out of Dubuque revealed that the Air Quality Index (AQI) in the area is moderate to unhealthy for individuals sensitive to poor area quality.